They say death and taxes are inevitable. But monthly bills are just as predictable - and far more consistent. “I’ve never paid a bill late, always send more than the minimum payment due, yet feel as if I’m in a never-ending bill-paying cycle,” a New York woman complained. “The finance charges are outrageous, and I feel as if I’ll be old and gray before I finally pay off all my debts.”
She isn’t alone. In recent weeks, I’ve received dozens of letters from debt-strapped consumers. One can’t pay all her bills now that her job went from full- to part-time. Another is struggling to recover from an unexpected medical bill.
If you’re unsure how to pay your bills and worried about increasing debts, consider getting professional help. A good credit counseling service can restructure your debts and work with your creditors to lower interest rates or minimum payments on your monthly bills and credit cards.
Here’s how the plans work: You deposit money each month with the credit counseling service. Your deposits are used to pay your creditors according to a payment schedule developed by the credit counselor. These plans get you back on the right financial track. Just remember, it takes time, often as long as four years or more to get all your debts under control.
The key is to avoid getting further in debt while you’re trying to dig yourself out. Some credit counseling services charge little or nothing, while others charge monthly fees that add up over time.
- Cold call or solicit consumers out of the blue.
- Charge high fees, especially if the fees are paid up front.
- Ask consumers to sign over power of attorney.
- Will not send free information about their services and fees.
- Encourage consumers to sign up for a plan or program immediately without first sending the consumer the program’s details in writing.
- Pay their employees based on commission.
- Don’t offer financial education as part of their plan or program.
- Is a non-profit organization and preferably a member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling such as Advantage Credit Counseling Service.
- Is in good standing with the Better Business Bureau.
- Is accredited.
- Discloses information about the fees and details of their plan or program in writing before requiring a consumer to sign up for anything.
- Offers a comprehensive financial education as part of their plan or program.
- Adheres to any state or federal laws, including licensing requirements.